Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mary's is a Pearl, Pearl is a Diamond

Mary's Fish Camp has been on my list for ages; I've been to Pearl Oyster Bar (its nemesis) a couple of times, and it is absolutely perfect for what it is, tries to be, and wants to be. Mary's, too, has that same bare-bones fish shack vibe, and definitely whisks you out of the city on a summery seabreeze. The menu is printed and plasticized, but the specials and the wine are quaintly scribbled on big chalkboards on two walls, which avoids any neck craning. We ended up here on the very last day before Mary would morph into her spring menu, so while some of the dishes didn't quite harmonize with the season, there were some of my favorite ingredients amongst the offerings, so I can't complain.

Starting with a beet salad (with some unmentioned, unpitted black olives lurking amongst the beets as a potential tooth-shattering dental liability)
was a nicely robust salad, if slightly on the oily side. Unnecessary, with unusually delicious fried chickpeas and thin shavings of ricotta salad... that extra oil could have been negated. Conch beignets, on the other hand, weren't greasy at all, but frittering out such a nice novel seafood always seems a mild tragedy. Served with two tiny slices of key lime (which would've been muchly more appreciated in two thick wedges), which also spiked a luscious aioli.
My entree, a last hurrah of winter, was a gorgeous piece of skate,

lightly breaded and soused in a balsamic brown butter, would've been exponentially more welcome on a nippy fall day than the first steamer of a NYC summer, but even so, it was supremely good. Perched atop a very generous pile of leafed out brussels sprouts leaves and less successful puree of garbanzos, this dish was big enough for two, paired with weightier starters and maybe a veggie side to split. Speaking of side dishes, the grilled vegetables that can pair with the whole fish offerings (of which there are many) were a simple grill of fennel, tomato, summer squashes, onion and eggplant. The onion was undercooked, leaving it a little harsh, but otherwise a solid (if not particularly memorable) side. Again, this is of shareable proportions.
The signs of spring popped up on the dessert menu. There was a tempting key lime concoction, and an enormous hot fudge sundae, but I couldn't see anything but the strawberry shortcake, after what has been a rather trying and lengthy winter. For me, shortcake should only be one thing, although is often subbed out with spongecake, pound cake or (worst of the worst!) angel food cake. But this one was it: the perfectly flaky buttermilk biscuit, with crunchy granules of coarse sugar crusting it up, a wonderfully ungummy strawberry jus and big slices of berry, sandwiching a barely sweet chantilly. It was second only to my mom's. You'll see by the photo that digging in began before I remembered to take its portrait.
So back to the title, I really enjoyed Mary's. I think Pearl's execution is slightly more finessed, but honestly, 'twixt the two of them. you'd have to struggle to err. I know there is a long summer ahead (technically we're not even there yet), but know for a fact I'll be looking forward to that skate reappearing on the menu come fall.

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